Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Meme

Just one of those memes found on the Internet, with a Christmas theme this time. Since it is Christmas Eve, it seems appropriate enough.

  1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? A bit of both. We mostly use wrapping paper, but there are one or two gifts we put in a gift bag.
  2. Real tree or artificial? Artificial in our house. I don't particularly like having to deal with the pine needles. I do like the pine scent, but we just burn a nice candle for the effect. Not that it matters. The cats try to nibble at it anyhow when it comes out.
  3. When do you put up the tree?
    Pretty much close to the holiday. We put up the tree without decorations for a day so the cats get used to it. We then put on the decorations and ornaments.
  4. When do you take the tree down?After Epiphany. We do celebrate Three Kings Day (Dia de Reyes) in our household.
  5. Do you like eggnog?I sure do. I also like Coquito, which my family back in Puerto Rico always makes. I have not made it in a while. Have to do so one of these years.
  6. Favourite gift received as a child?Hmm, I had a few. I had quite a Star Wars collection. I also like Legos quite a bit.
  7. Do you have a Nativity scene?Yes, we do. And we have another little tradition where Joseph and Mary make their way to the stable. Basically, we put out the stable. Then Joseph and Mary, with the donkey, begin their travel in some other part of the house. They gradually "move" towards Bethlehem. Baby Jesus does not appear on the manger until Christmas morning. Later, the Three Wise Men travel as well. Our daughter has fun keeping track of their movements.
  8. Hardest person to buy for? I can't recall anyone particularly difficult to buy for. Adults in our family don't exchange gifts as much. We do more for the kids. Adults may get a basket or gift card.
  9. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Clothes, and I mean basics like socks. I can get that any time of the year. Hated it as a kid, and I find it slightly annoying now. However, small holiday themed things like a tie would be ok. Actually, I have a small tie collection. I don't wear them as much as I used to, but now and then I do. If you find some rare tie (does not have to be Christmas themed; I have Star Wars, Coca Cola, Halloween, etc. Who knows, maybe that will be the subject of some future post?), that would be ok for example.
  10. Mail or email Christmas cards? I am personally moving to e-mail. Last two years have been so hectic (the wife and I work different schedules) we have not been able to send out the cards in the mail. This may be something we rethink at some point. We do like sending the cards, but as I said, last two years time caught up to us.
  11. Favourite Christmas Movie? I don't like holiday movies very much to be perfectly honest. I find them mostly predictable and too sentimental. Some, like A Christmas Story, I find irritating. As of late, I would say The Polar Express would be my favorite with a blend of sense of wonder without excessive sap. I always enjoy How The Grinch Stole Christmas (I prefer the cartoon version, but will watch the Carey film if it is on). I should add, my humor tends to be on the dark side. A film like Santa's Slay, cheesy as it may be, works for me (you can see a trailer for the film here. The opening scene certainly reflects what I wish I could do with some holiday gatherings. Not for the faint of heart, by the way.).
  12. When do you start shopping for Christmas? As soon as I get a chance. Usually sometime after Thanksgiving. We don't really shop on Black Friday. Anytime after that is fair.
  13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I haven't. The missus has, usually for work exchanges.
  14. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? I happen to enjoy Puerto Rican typical fare for Christmas. My parents often make some of it at some point.
  15. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Colored lights.
  16. Favorite Christmas song? Puerto Rican holiday music. However, I do like some of the classics in English as well. I am pretty eclectic in this regard.
  17. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We stay at home. Often, it is due to the fact my wife may have to work on Christmas Eve, making any travel impractical. We usually travel to see family (mine; they live in Fort Worth), if nearby, on the days between Christmas and Epiphany.
  18. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? If I google them I can (ha ha). Let me see: Dancer, Rudolph, Blitzen, that is about it.
  19. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star, just a small one.
  20. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? In the morning.
  21. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Pretty much the shoppers, especially the traffic. Even though it is not as bad as Houston, there are still some boneheads on the roads, extra ones to the usual ones. I don't mind the shopping, but I do mind the crowds, so I try to shop at off times or online.
  22. Best thing about this time of year? Definitely the time to spend with the family.

Found via the Library Despot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Still shopping for Christmas? Don't forget the writer in your life

I was watching TV and flipping channels last night while reading feeds, when I came across Suze Orman on CNBC. She was making the point that if you have not bought your Christmas stuff by now (as of last night), then you might as well forget it. Her basic point was that if you shop at this stage, you are probably doing it out of guilt, and the stores know this, so they put out all sorts of stuff you probably can do without. I think she may have a point.

Anyhow, in the spirit of putting something at the last minute, here is a gift guide for the writer in your life, written by K.G. Schneider. I was going to include it in my holiday posts, but in a moment of not being so organized, instead of adding the link to the clippings folder I had made for the holiday posts, I left it pinned. So I missed it. However, this is a good post I want to point to. Not that I am a writer anywhere near the league Ms. Schneider is in, but I can still aspire. She provides some interesting ideas worth a look.

Holiday Post 2007, Parte Tres

And now we make it to the final part of this Holiday Post, 2007. Mofos and other people who are not the sharpest tools in the shed do not rest for the holiday. Plus, there are also some amusing things out there. So, enjoy and have some fun.

  • The financial services firm PNC gives you the annual Christmas Price Index broadcast. You may have to pick between listening to the analyst or reading the ticker below. How Mr. Dunigan, the VP doing the analysis keep that straight face while doing the report is beyond me.
  • If you are stringing the Christmas lights yourself, remember: Safety First. Don't end up electrocuted like this guy in California. Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room.
  • Be considerate of other parents when you buy presents for their kids. Make sure you have the batteries if needed. And for the sake of your deity of choice, don't go buying annoying toys like these. From Say No To Crack blog.
  • The annoyance factor also applies to Christmas music. According to this story from the Washington Post, "All I Want For Christmas is not to Hear That Song." Find out which songs. Do know that if you bring any of these into my home, my opinion of you will seriously suffer. The article does point out music people do like as well. Classics remain popular as ever. Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room.
  • And speaking of classic Christmas music, here is the 1956 "Christmas in Jail." If you are one of those dumbasses who drinks and drives, you may end up in jail as well. Found via the YesButNoButYes blog.
  • And talking of those dumbasses who drink and drive, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the death toll from drinking and driving is the highest during the holiday season (link leads to press release. You can find the full study at the site too, which is a PDF). I found this via Docuticker. No one is saying not to have a couple of drinks during the holiday. Heck, I will be mixing one or two myself. All we are saying is do so in moderation, and for the love of the deity of your choice (or none at all if you swing that way), don't get behind the wheel if you have had one too many.
  • We just finished the semester here on campus. Things were mostly peaceful. However, not every campus is as peaceful, and there is always the one mofo who procrastinated and behaved like an idiot in the library demanding all sorts of things he or she can't get. To them, we dedicate this poem by the pseudonymous Stinkycheez, writing for the Society for Librarians Who Say "Motherfucker" (and yes, I am a member because some people just deserve to be called mofo).
  • From the website, here are "The 25 Most Baffling Toys from Around the World." There is a bit of an adult element, so the usual warning applies. One of my favorites? The Pee and Poo plush toys. No, I am not making that up. Go take a look.
  • And a last minute find: The Morning News has published a "2007 Holiday Christmas Survival Guide for Slackers Cultural Warriors." Worth a look. By the way, since you should always mind your matters, from the same site, here is a little guide on how to write thank you notes. Whether it's for a gift or for someone who let you stay at their place for a day or two, remember to say thanks.

However you celebrate the holiday season, hope you do so in a peaceful, safe, and merry way. Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Post 2007, Part Deux

Previously, I gave you some odds and ends mostly related to shopping and gifts for the holidays. Today, we are looking at how to be less materialistic, some trivia, and a bit of etiquette. So, here we go again:

For some folks, the holiday is (as it should be) more than just exchanging gifts. Maybe they want to put less emphasis on the consumerism that seems to run rampant during this time of year. Here are some ideas for those folks:

  • The Money and Values blog provides "14 Ways to Give More Meaning and Less Stuff."Not all of the options are frugal; some do involve money, but there is some food for thought here. This same blog also has a very extensive list for "Socially Conscious Online Shopping," which includes links and some details on sales. I know the shopping segment is already done, but I added this hoping those of you out there who try to be socially conscious might find it useful.
  • From the Apophenia blog, here are ways of "giving back." These are ideas for causes and charities.
  • And over here, you can find "12 Ways to de-commercialize Christmas." Some of the tips here I would take with a grain of salt, but there are some good ideas as well. I found this via the AdFreak blog, which offers as well ways to "Have Yourself a Non-materialistic Christmas." My favorite from that list: "Go play in the snow. I don’t care if you’re 50. Put some Icy-Hot on your back and start building snowmen." If we had snow in the part of Texas I am in, I would go build that snowman.
  • If you are pretty handy, you may consider sending Christmas cards you made. Lifehacker has a roundup of DIY Christmas cards.
If you are looking for something to read this season:

Now, you can also learn about this holiday season:

In order to enjoy the holiday, you do want to take care of yourself. If you are one of the many who may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka winter blues or SAD), you can learn more about it here. How common is this? According to the site, "Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues."

If you are traveling, you may end up as a someone's house guest. The Frugal Law Student gives you "10 Ways to Be an Excellent House Guest." Me? I prefer to book a cheap hotel room nearby and not impose on anyone, but that may not be an option for everyone.

Want more Christmas ideas? Lifehacker has a nice list of 20+ websites for Christmas. The list includes a favorite of mine, NORAD's Santa Tracker. Once again this year, we will be tracking Santa on Christmas Eve.

As it turns out, I have enough for one more post. In Parte Tres (that's Part Three), we will look at humor and mofos. Because it may be the holiday, but the mofos never rest. So, let's have a laugh or two next time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Holiday Post 2007, Part One

Well folks, it's that time of year again when I take this moment to wish all of you out there a happy holiday season. Apparently this is becoming a bit of a tradition for me now (see 2005 and 2006). Whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, or more than one, or none at all, may it be a safe, happy, and peaceful time. Just to cover my bases, here is what the lawyers (if I had any) would probably allow me to say. Here is, once again, the legalistic holiday greeting (modified for this year, with a hat tip to the Super's Blog):

From Your Lawyer Friends:

"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."

Since I will be taking some time off from the blog sometime soon to enjoy the holiday with the family, I am leaving you with this collection of odds and ends I have recently found related to the holidays, with my snarky commentary here and there. Given that I found a lot of good stuff, we can actually afford to make this a three-part blog celebration. I hope you find some of them useful, entertaining, thought-provoking, funny, etc.

So here goes Part One:

First, one I have been saving for a while, and a new one.

  • Last year, I forgot to include this item about those holiday letters some of our distant relatives send to us. You know the ones. These are the various family newsletters that to be honest we probably don't care much about. Why? Because we probably have no clue who half of those people are anyways. Joshua Glenn, writing for the Boston Globe, takes on this topic and points to some parody newsletter examples. (Found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room).If you need some ideas on what gifts to buy (what do you mean you are not done shopping yet? What the heck are you waiting for?)
  • By the way, this year, Michael McGrorty has his take on those pesky newsletters as well. Go read "In Your Mailbox Soon" to see his version.
Here are some places where you can get some ideas for your holiday shopping needs.

  • NotCot has been putting out a list of presents for every day of the Christmas season. Maybe you want to check it out. (A hat tip to YesButNoButYes blog).
  • The Laughing Librarian offers a pretty big Holiday Gift Guide. See if you find some humorous or offbeat ideas there.
  • Lifehacker also has a holiday Gift Guide 2007. They even break it down by price range.
  • Are you stuck doing one of those workplace gift exchanges? From Wired's How To Wiki, "Choose Gifts for Office Parties."
  • Now, how about your child's teacher? Yep, if you want to show some appreciation for the person who puts up with your rug rat on most days (yep, it's a fact, children do spend more time at school than at home), then you may want to read this first before you decide on a present. The Washington Post had an article on December 15, 2007 related to "Teacher's Pet Peeve: Useless Gifts." The bottom line folks, try to be a little thoughtful in that regard. It's the least you can do for those who educate your children. (found via the Obscure Store and Reading Room. The comments there are, shall we say, priceless?)
  • On using gift cards. I think the author on the next piece may be way too harsh on those that use them. See link here. Anyhow, at least one party may be happy for gift cards, and that is the National Retail Federation. They recently reported that the "Number of Holiday Returns Decreasing Partially Due to Gift Card Popularity." Is this really surprising? It is known that gift cards are a good deal for retailers anyhow, especially when people lose them, forget to use them, or the cards expire. Why? Because the retailers already got the money anyhow. Always remember to use the gift card if you got one. If you are buying one, check the terms on it.
  • On some gifts, you may as well buy used. However, there are some gifts you definitely should not buy used. Learn the difference and go from there. Personally, I happen to like buying used books. A gift card to a place like Half Price Books always makes me happy (even if I have to drive a longer distance now to get to one).
  • And if you must regift. Actually, according to the article, it is more common than you think. Personally, could be ok, if you do it right.
  • Of course, if you did buy a present, chances are you have to wrap it up. I will admit that I am not the greatest gift wrapper, but I get by. Anyhow, here is some advice on how to wrap a present from WikiHow. The guide is very specific and includes photos. Step One is the most obvious: remove the price tags.
  • And just in case you have not gotten enough of the news on the holiday season and retail, here is a lot of coverage from MSNBC (I am sure you can find even more if you go to other news sites).
  • Finally, if your shopping needs go more into the adult and sexy, the Village Voice features Pucker Up's Eighth Annual Sexy Gift Guide. (first link is the site providing some of the ideas. The second is the article itself). If you offend easily or this is just not your thing, then don't click. If on the other hand, you are on the adventuresome side, go for it.
Perhaps the holiday season is one for nostalgia.

  • Check out some of the old Sears Wish Books here. I am sure a few of you remember those? I know I got a lot of ideas for what I wanted for Christmas as a child from them. They had great playsets for Star Wars for one.
Some items on safety because I do want all of you out there to be safe:

  • Beware holiday scams. The vultures are all over the place during the holidays. Don't fall for their scams.
  • If you have children, odds are good you are buying toys. The toy recalls have been all over the headlines. may be able to provide some help in choosing toys. They feature a search option for toys. For more information on the recalls, you can also see the report of the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Groups) entitled "Trouble in Toyland: the 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety" (link leads to the press release. You then have the option to download the full report at the site).
Make sure you come back for Part Two of our Holiday Post 2007. Happy Holidays!

Have some wine, keep colds at bay

The New York Times has a small story today: "The Claim: A Little Alcohol Can Help You Beat a Cold." Now, before you go out and just have any old drink, it is not as easy as it sounds. Here's the deal:

  • "Nonetheless, two large studies have found that although moderate drinking will not cure colds, it can help keep them at bay. One, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon in 1993, looked at 391 adults and found that resistance to colds increased with moderate drinking, except in smokers."
  • "The study [this is a second study], in The American Journal of Epidemiology, found no relationship between the incidence of colds and consumption of beer, spirits, Vitamin C or zinc. But drinking 8 to 14 glasses of wine per week, particularly red wine, was linked to as much as a 60 percent reduction in the risk of developing a cold. The scientists suspected this had something to do with the antioxidant properties of wine."
In other words, the alcohol will not cure it, but if you drink a little wine in moderation, it may help keep that cold away. So, cheers friends. What I did find interesting is that the Vitamin C may have no relationship given that is a common piece of lore: stock up on Vitamin C.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

First Sentences in 2007

Yes, this is one of those memes people put around, and I fall for them. Anyhow, I picked this one up via Ruminations. The rule is simple: pick the first sentence of the first post/journal entry for each month. While I do have an "old school" journal (also known as paper), I will be using the blog for this. Since I have more than one blog, I will use this one (probably more fun anyways). Anything in parenthesis is me adding to the meme. Any links came with the sentence.

January: Today is my first day of work for the spring semester after the holiday break.

February: I got tagged for this by CW at Ruminations. (yes, it was a meme. Detect a theme here?)

March: Here is a study on reporting that "For College Students, Political Labels Don’t Always Reflect Attitudes on Social Issues or Religious Beliefs."

Once in a blue moon, the family will go out for a meal at one of those "casual dining" establishments.

May: Just when I thought I had seen everything, here comes beer jello from Japan.

June: Well, I can certainly use some more energy as of late.

July: Recently, Houghton-Mifflin, makers of the American Heritage dictionaries, released a list of 100 words every high school graduate should know.

August: I finally finished reading Fast Food Nation.

September: This list of "Useful Things College Taught Me," from the site The Best Article Every Day, should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

October: As my readers know, I moved to Tyler recently due to my new job.

November: For a long time, I lived happily without a cell phone.

December: This is certainly a ridiculous item.

A simple and playful way to look at the past year. I don't post as much here as I do over at The Gypsy Librarian, but I still had enough for a year, a lot of it fun stuff. If you are moved, go for it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Naming that alcohol

Well, we made it to another Friday. For us here, it is the last day of finals, so I am sure a few will be going out for drinks today. Thus, this quiz seems appropriate. This one was actually interesting. You basically get clues, and you try to identify the drink. No, you don't have to drink a lot to do well. I think if you are somewhat well informed, you can do well on this. If you must know, I do drink socially, but a few of the drinks on the list are things I only know from reading or asking around. Then again, the "drunkard" label, not sure about that, since I do drink in moderation. Anyhow, here is my result:


A writing sanctuary: wish I had one of those back when

The New York Times had an interesting article on December 5 written by Alan Finder asking if colleges recruit athletes, why not recruit writers too? Professor Al Filries is doing just that at the University of Pennsylvania. I wish that a place like the Kelly Writers' House had been around when I was an undergraduate; heck, even when I went to graduate school for my English masters, a place like that would have been nice. I like the idea, as he calls it, of a place as a sandbox or incubator of ideas. We need more places like that on our campuses.

As I take a moment to reflect, I don't think I would have been the most active of students in that setting. I would not have been the shy poet, but I would certainly not have been the active sportswriter either. Probably something in between. I do enjoy writing, but I am a bit more reserved about sharing. I am betting my two readers now are asking, "what the heck? You keep a blog." Well, a blog is a different thing. What I am thinking more about is in terms of being in a workshop setting. When I was in graduate school, I took two fiction writing courses. I enjoyed them very much, but the workshop concept of presenting your fiction to a group of 25 or more people like you are in an inquisition was a bit much for me. Overall, the experience was a good one, and I discovered that I could write fiction; fiction writing was something I had never attempted before then. I thought it was something novelists and such other famous people did. I certainly did not lack imagination, so I had a chance to explore that. I am thinking now that a place like the Kelly House earlier in my academic career would have been good for me. It's a writer's sanctuary blending the formal and the informal. I came to writing pretty late I suppose. I wrote here and there, but I did not really begin to see myself as a writer until I became a teacher and started writing with my students and then my colleagues. But that is another story.

I do keep dabbling in fiction here and there. Oh, it's nothing that is bound to appear in my blogs anytime soon. I do enjoy writing in the blogs as well. The nice thing about blogging is the conversational nature; it's a casual setting, at least for me. And it is a place where I can explore a little bit of everything.

Anyhow, go read the article and see how a writing sanctuary is created and nurtured.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Booknote: Nickel and Dimed

Title: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Publication Information: New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.
ISBN: 0805063889
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Current affairs, Labor studies, economics.

I had been meaning to read this book for a while; it was a common choice for some freshman composition classes back in Houston. I saw some of the reviewers over in (where I keep my reading list), and a good number were less than sympathetic. I did try to reserve judgment until reading the book. Now that I have read it, I can see that a lot of those unsympathetic people probably have never had to do some hard "unskilled" work at any given time.

The author goes out from academia to work in "unskilled" jobs as a maid, a Wal-Mart employee, a waitress, and a nursing home assistant. What she finds is that these jobs require a lot more skill than it would appear. Also, it is very clear that the poor folks who work at these jobs are not making it in terms of their overall quality of life, to put it mildly. Basically, these are jobs that pay miserably, barely providing enough for anyone to make any kind of living. And these are hard jobs that also require some degree of skill and concentration. Add to this issues with housing and other needs, and you can clearly see why this is a problem. The author shatters the myth that poor people are so only because they are lazy or won't get a better job. The evidence points to the fact that the deck is stacked against them from issues in housing (for instance, it is not particularly easy to get an apartment without a substantial deposit and first month's rent) to geography to child care. One of the reviewers on the GR site actually expounded the elitist view of, to be polite, that certain people just should not breed. Let's leave it at that, shall we? In the end, it is not as easy as that. And that is just some of the conditions and obstacles they face from society. If you factor in some of the unethical (for example, withholding a person's first paycheck) and just downright abusive practices from these employers, then the picture is really bleak.

The book is not perfect. While the author does an excellent job in exposing the situation, she can get a bit preachy at times. This takes away from the narrative, and I think lessens the impact a little bit. However, the author does support a lot of her assertions with documentation in footnotes. I found those footnotes interesting; they added an additional element of realism and evidence to her arguments.

And if you think charity aid agencies are any better, you better think again. When the author finds herself in need of them, she finds a chilling degree of insensitivity and just plain cluelessness. See her passage about the box of food aid she gets in Minneapolis (mostly useless stuff like candy). And then people have the gall to say the poor have poor eating habits? This instance was during her stint at Wal-Mart, which is notorious for their workers needing to go on welfare or seek other public assistance to supplement Wal-Mart's meager salaries or miserable health insurance. But don't take my word for it. Read this book. And if Ehrenreich is not enough, you can also read Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle (see my note on that book here).

The book had a lot of passages that caught my eye. I am only going to highlight a few here:

  • "Or maybe it's low-wage work in general has the effect of making you feel like a pariah [this was during her stint as a maid, observing how maids are pretty much invisible in society]. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I'm not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it's easy for a fast-food worker or nurse's aide to conclude that she is an anomaly--the only one or almost the only one, who hasn't been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment" (117-118).
  • And to answer those people who say that the poor just don't behave in a rational way, you know, the ones who say, why not walk out and get a better job? Here is what the author has to say: "So, if low-wage workers do not always behave in an economically rational way, that is, as free agents within a capitalist democracy, it is because they dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic. When you enter the low-wage workplace--and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well--you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship" (210).
Now, this book came out in 2001. It is still very relevant today. Personally, I found interesting the experience of reading it right after I read Dobbs's book (note here). While Dobbs is focusing more on the middle class, he still manages to address some of the issues that Ehrenreich rises on her book as well.

In the interest of disclosure, I will say that I have worked as a waiter and in fast food. Little tidbit about being a waiter. Since I am fully fluent in English, I was able to work as a waiter. However, since I am a native Spanish speaker as well, it meant I could make friends with the dishwashers and kitchen help, which were mostly Hispanic (Mexican to be precise; I am Puerto Rican). I mention that because, as Ehrenreich notes in her book, when it comes to food service, there is a certain hierarchy. I was able to, well, navigate it a bit. Anyhow, it was hard and demanding work. Anyone who says it is simply "unskilled" work simply has no clue.

Similar books: well, for some, maybe Dobbs book may be of interest. However, I would recommend the works of Jonathan Kozol for a similar feel.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Booknote: Lou Dobbs's War on the Middle Class

Title: War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back.
Author: Lou Dobbs.
Publication Information: New York: Viking, 2006.
ISBN: 0670037923
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Economics, Politics, Current Affairs.

I have not made booknotes here recently because I have been keeping track of my reading in the Goodreads website. My profile is on the sidebar, and it links to the rest of my bookshelves. Feel free to take a look. Anyhow, when I started doing that, I decided I would still blog about a book if it it was one of those books I found myself talking to it or making small notes as I read. This one fit the bill, so here we are. This may get a bit lengthy. If you just want to know if I recommend it, the answer is yes. It does have a few things worth thinking about, even if I don't agree with everything Mr. Dobbs writes.

Let me start with a quote from the early pages, which I think sets the thesis of the book:

"Lobbyists for corporate America and special interest groups are the arms dealers in the war on the middle class" (37).

Previous chapters to the quote discuss the class warfare situation in the United States. This is on the basis of corporations more worried about greed and money than the concept of the common good. And while some have labeled Dobbs as a populist (and a few other choice terms I will leave out for the sake of civility), at times I can't help but wonder how low the U.S. has gone that they can't even make something as simple as a coffee mug or a pair of pants locally instead of shipping those and many other jobs overseas. And to make it worse, the government has helped those corporations do it. One has to wonder if instead of a democracy, we have more of an oligarchy or a plutocracy running the country. All one has to do is look at the current crop of presidential candidates: all wealthy and wed to special interests in one form or another. Nothing against wealth. If you work and make your money, that's great. It's when you run for office pretty much paid for by special interests and corporations while forgetting who you are really running for when there is a problem. It's not really democratic anymore since it is not representing the people.

"When it comes to issues of real importance to the middle class--education, public safety, the environment, infrastructure, economic security, and rising the standard of living--our politicians are for the most part deaf, dumb, and blind" (41).

These are issues that affect everyone, not just the middle class. But one has to agree that the record on these issues for Congress, especially in recent years, has been dismal. And then, there is what I would describe as a complete loss of empathy, compassion, and humanity. A manifestation of that is the infamous revision of the bankruptcy laws. It's not really a law to catch the deadbeats who declare bankruptcy in order not to pay their obligations. It was a gift to the credit card companies and the banks who care little for the ruined lives of those who really need to declare bankruptcy in order to satisfy their greed. Dobbs writes, "and as a recent Harvard University study showed, nearly 50 percent of bankruptcy filings in the United States are the result of illness and the enormous bills associated with it" (60). In other words, these are not deadbeats; these are honest, hardworking people who face a major medical catastrophe. These are people who need help and who deserve a break. Dobbs summarizes it then:

"So bankruptcies tend to be filed by hardworking people who have fallen on tough times. The new bill doesn't take that into account; it just makes sure that the interests of big companies who have well-placed and highly paid lobbyists are satisfied. In the process, the last safety net protecting the middle class from financial disaster has been yanked away" (60; emphasis mine).

Dobbs later observes about the recent occupants of the White House. He has this thought:

"How about somebody from a Midwestern state school who has actually worked for a living in his or her life; and whose intellect, character, and leadership would lift the nation with a clear vision of our future and a commitment to the common good and our national interest? Just a thought" (66).

It sounds great, Mr. Dobbs. But it ain't going to happen. For one, such a person would never be able to raise enough money for a serious campaign. He or she would have to run as an independent since neither national party would embrace such an individual, and we know that in this country nothing short of a miracle would get a qualified independent elected. However, in the end, even if such a person existed, had plenty of money to compete, and could mount a serious independent movement, that person would probably be a smart person who would know better than to run for office when the office is bought and paid for, so to speak. Nice idea. I would love to see it, but I know I won't. And on the off-chance the person did run, I lack faith in people. Sure, I'd vote for him or her, but most people in this country are probably too dumb to choose an alternative that would be good for them. And therein lies the fatal flaw. Sure, the government is corrupt as hell, but people keep electing that same set of corrupt politicians every time. Sure, the system is certainly rigged, but at one point I wish I could ask a lot of voters, "just what the fuck were you thinking? How hurt do you and your family have to be before you get a clie these people don't care about you and your needs?" In the end, there are no real leaders anymore; no one who is willing to nurture and care for the common good. In fact, this was also exactly what I was thinking when I read Foxes in the Henhouse (I reviewed it over on Goodreads). The authors of that book, in my humble opinion, fail to see this as well. Sure, in that case, the Democrats have pretty much taken their core voters for granted. However, they can only educate the electorate so much. After a while, people have to account for themselves for the government they elected. That's why my faith in people is lacking.

Now, in terms of the average worker, it is common knowledge that their wages have been stagnant or declining. Though the nation is, allegedly (ok, I am willing to grant that the numbers on Wall Street are very good), in a prosperous condition, it only applies to the corporations. Dobbs asks,

"But what about the employees who make it all possible? While the corporate profits increased in the last year, real wages have actually declined. While productivity is skyrocketing, the share of national income going to workers has fallen to the lowest level in forty years. At the same time, corporate America is cutting benefits and pensions. If this is Adam Smith's invisible hand at work, it's balled up in a fist and striking the solar plexus of the middle class. And outsourcing is playing a part in the decline of both pay and opportunity for American labor" (110).

If you ask me, Adam Smith's hand is balled up into a fist alright, but it's not striking the worker's solar plexus. Let's just say it's hitting a whole other body cavity and leave it at that. Because at the end of the day, this is extreme free trade without the sympathy (read the Adam Smith link, and that will make sense). Again, we see the absence of any sense of common good. No one is saying that corporation should not make their profits and build their wealth. But the least they can do, if for no other reason than common decency, is to compensate those who make their profits possible in a fair and dignified manner. Those workers helped build the wealth; the least that corporation can do is share it with the ones who made it possible, not screw them.

Moving along, the next passage struck me as, well, ridiculous:

"With border patrol uniforms made in Mexico, what other brilliant cost-saving scheme can we expect from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection? Outsourcing of border patrol jobs?" (118-119).

The context is as follows: U.S. company VF Solutions, hired to make the uniforms, subcontracted the labor to Mexico. As for outsourcing the border patrol, hey, the Roman Empire did it in its provinces by employing native mercenaries in their armies. Yep, they basically recruited into the armies the same barbarians they were supposedly guarding against. And we know how the Roman Empire ended. I am just saying.

One of Dobbs' big issues is illegal immigration. For me, it is a bit of a Catch-22. I have mixed feelings because I feel we should treat those immigrants who do make it here humanely. However, I also feel that the employers who are basically exploiting them should be punished, and the punishment should be severe. When those employers say that no Americans are willing to pick tomatoes or clean hotel rooms, I say bullshit. You pay the wage the work is actually worth, and you will find plenty of Americans who would do it. Those employers simply prefer to cheat the law and hire illegal workers than pay for an honest day's work. I will just leave it there.

Dobbs also addresses education, which is a topic dear to me since I am an educator. He writes on the topic:

"Politicians are finding reasons not to put money into schools, not to pay teachers, and not to improve the education offered to every kid in every school. It's going to the bureaucracy, and it shows" (158).

This makes me think of a remark Jonathan Kozol made in one of his books I read a long time ago, wish I remembered which book now, about the hypocrisy of those who claim you can't fix education with more funding while sending their own children to expensive private schools. Who says you can't get better education by adding more money?

Overall, I found myself nodding at times. Arguing with the author at other times. So maybe for me that is good enough reason to recommend the book. Like many books written by journalists and pundits, it sort of has the style of the author. In other words, if you are familiar with Dobbs's program, that tone is found in the book as well. The book features appendices with the texts for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. For some people, they may need to reread them again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I am a cookie now?

Well folks, we made it to another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. And you two out there know what that means. Let's go with something sweet this time, a what kind of cookie are you quiz. See below for my result:

A hat tip to Library Tavern.

Hugo Winners I have read (as of now)

I picked this up from CW's Ruminations blog. The meme is to simply note the ones you have read from the list of Hugo Award winners. Clearly, I have some catching up to do. Then again, when it comes to SciFi, I often read more short fiction. So, I have read more of these authors than the list would indicate, just not the particular works. Anyhow, here is the list. I have italicized the ones I have actually read. By the way, going to the Hugo site is a good way to get other writing ideas, since they give you the winners as well as nominees (at least for some years) plus the Hugo is also awarded to short fiction works. I will add any remarks in brackets. Anyhow, here we go.

The list:

2007 Rainbows End,Vernor Vinge
2006 Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
2004 Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
2003 Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer
2002 American Gods, Neil Gaiman [Gaiman is another of my all time favorites. I have read a few of his other works, and I will certainly read his others]
2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling [This is probably why I will never get this list complete. I have no interest in reading Rowling's works. And since I already know the plot, less of an incentive too]
2000 A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge
1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis [I have read some of her short fiction in anthologies]
1998 Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman [It's on my to-read list]
1997 Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
1996 The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson [I did read his Snow Crash]
1995 Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold
1994 Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
1993 Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
1993 A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
1992 Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
1991 The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold
1990 Hyperion, Dan Simmons
1989 Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh
1988 The Uplift War, David Brin
1987 Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
1986 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card [This is one of my favorites. I have to reread it soon]

1985 Neuromancer, William Gibson
1984 Startide Rising, David Brin
1983 Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov [Looking at this, I can't believe I have not read the Foundation Books. Oh well, one of these days. I have read some of his short work ]
1982 Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh
1981 The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge
1980 The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke
1979 Dreamsnake, Vonda N. McIntyre
1978 Gateway, Frederik Pohl [I have read Pohl's work. One that did not make it here was his novel with C.M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants. I highly recommend it]
1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
1976 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman [Another of my favorites I have to revisit soon. I read around the same time I read Heinlein's Starship Troopers.]
1975 The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
1974 Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke [I just finished this one. Was not too impressed]
1973 The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
1971 Ringworld, Larry Niven
1970 The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
1969 Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
1968 Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
1966 Dune, Frank Herbert
1966 And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal), Roger Zelazny
1965 The Wanderer, Fritz Leiber
1964 Here Gather the Stars (Way Station), Clifford D. Simak [Have read his short fiction. Pretty good stuff actually]
1963 The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick [I have read some of his other works. Most recently, read A Scanner Darkly]
1962 Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M., Miller Jr

1960 Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
[I have also read his Time Enough for Love, which is one of my favorites, though a bit long. Heinlein is sort of a love-hate thing. I tried to read his Job: A Comedy of Justice, and I dropped it. Too boring. Farnham's Freehold was not that great either. However, a good number of Heinlein's early short fiction is really good.]

1959 A Case of Conscience, James Blish [I am reluctant to read this. I read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, which I hated then, and I still hate. I don't hate too many books, but this is one of the few I do. Since I read this particular Blish novel is similar, you can see my reluctance. This may be another reason I will never get this whole list done].

1958 The Big Time, Fritz Leiber
1956 Double Star, Robert A. Heinlein
1955 They’d Rather Be Right (The Forever Machine), Mark Clifton & Frank Riley
1953 The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester [I love Bester. I also read his The Stars My Destination, as well as some of his short fiction.]

Hmm, 11 out of the 55. Not too good if you are one of those people who feels a need to read everything on a list, which I am not. However, there are some works on this list I am definitely interested in reading. And there are a lot more that are not listed I would rather read. CW asks readers if they are fans of science fiction, to which I would answer that I am, even if I have not read most of this list. I will say I don't consider Harry Potter science fiction by any stretch (it's fantasy, and yes, I do read some fantasy as well). As I said, I read a lot of short fiction. Often, I "keep up" in this area by reading one or more of the "Best Of" Annuals that come out. I tend to favor David G. Hartwell's anthologies, but I do read Gardner Dozois's now and then too (my wife goes for both).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

So, if I check out that book, I can then buy more crap?

This is certainly a ridiculous item. Let's not even consider the privacy invasion issue of the matter. Let's look at how the Leesburg (Florida) Public Library tries its hand at marketing:

"The program, Youniquely 4 U, is free for anyone who holds a Lake County Library card, and it offers personal recommendations and coupons based on what a library patron checks out, drawing from general categories of the patron's book or video selections to suggest similar events or businesses."

So, they take your private information from the book checkouts to advertise to you. As I said, I am not even going to consider the fact they are invading my privacy by sharing what I am checking out with advertisers, which by the way is none of their business. I thought librarians were supposed to protect patrons from this kind of thing. Sure, the librarians in Leesburg will likely refuse the man in the black trenchcoat and dark glasses a request for my records (unless he has a valid warrant), but they clearly have no problem letting advertisers get a look at them. So, let's leave that aside and look at what might actually happen if I did check out books from that library. What kind of advertising might I actually get? Hmm.

Here are some books I have recently read. Let's see how Leesburg's marketing would give me ideas for shopping and consumption:

  • Art Spiegelman's Maus and Maus II. Hmm, probably an ad for a local pest control company.
  • Kinky Friedman's Texas Hold 'Em. This could go a couple of ways. One could be a coupon for a casino nearby. Kinky's name might trigger an ad from a local adult bookstore or lingerie shop.
  • Kinky Friedman's Cowboy Logic. Probably a coupon for the local western wear store. After all, the book is about cowboys (ok, it's about more, but remember, this is what the ad program would think you need to buy).
  • Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements. Advertisements from various local lawyers.
  • Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. This is a no-brainer: coupons for McDonald's.
  • John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Advertisement for a local retirement community. Discount coupons for seniors and/or veterans to the local diners.
  • Brian Fies, Mom's Cancer. Advertisement for the regional oncology center, or for a cancer support group (ok, I found it kind of hard to joke about this one since it deals with a serious topic, but be honest, we are talking thoughtless advertising here).
  • Michael Jan Friedman's The Federation Travel Guide. Travel agents.
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards 4: Intelligent Design. Advertisements from the local nitwits advocating teaching "intelligent design" so schools teach all sides (sorry, I don't give intelligent design people the benefit of any doubt. These are basically people advocating ignorance of real science).
  • Andy Rooney's Out of my mind. Ads for local mental health facilities.
  • Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew. Ads for local bars and other drinking establishments. (This one actually makes a bit more sense. Harder to do in Tyler, since it is a dry county. I just drive over). You could also have ads for beer brands if there is a local distributor nearby.
  • Adrian Gostick, The Carrot Principle. Ads for the local farmers' market, or just any local supermarket (never mind the book is about management).
  • Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. Ad for local electronics shop or store like Best Buy (you know, so you can buy that scanner).

Folks, libraries are supposed to be one of the last sanctuaries of democracy. They are supposed to be the place where you can go and find information and reading material in a neutral environment with help from dedicated professionals. Now, this library is, implicitly at least, endorsing certain products and services by allowing advertising. Do these librarians really need to sell themselves off like that? If I want advertising, I will go to the local bookstore for my books, thanks.

A hat tip to Barbara Fister writing for ACRLog.